Michael Emerson Interview: Loved Labor of Lost

By Tim Lammers

Normally this time of year, actors nominated for Emmy Awards find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of excitement as they wait with bated breath for the big night to come around.But a strange feeling has overcome “Lost” star Michael Emerson, one of those in the running for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. As the winner of the coveted trophy in last year’s race (and a nominee the year before) for his role as the enigmatic other guy, Ben Linus, Emerson is feeling, well, nothing.”It’s funny — I haven’t even thought about what I will say if I win. I so do not expect to win that I’ve been basking in the glow of being a nominee and not feeling any responsibility whatsoever to become a winner,” Emerson said, laughing, in a recent interview.A journeyman actor born, raised and educated through college in Iowa, Emerson first played Shakespeare on stages in Florida and Alabama before landing in off-Broadway productions in New York — which was followed by a few film gigs mixed in with some guest television roles in Los Angeles. An Emmy in 2001 for Outstanding Guest Actor on “The Practice” notwithstanding, Emerson really didn’t find the monster success he was looking for until he landed on the lauded ABC series in a role filmed on the big island of Oahu in Hawaii — a role that he thought was going to be limited, at best.Before he was cast in “Lost” — which debuts on Blu-ray and DVD (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) Tuesday as a “Complete Series” deluxe boxed set for the first time — Emerson said he was a casual watcher of the remote island survivor show at best.

‘Lost’ was always on in my household because my wife (“True Blood” star Carrie Preston) was a fan of it from the get-go,” Emerson reflected. “I watched it intermittently so I didn’t pay close attention to it, so when the job offer came, it seemed like … a job offer. No one was calling to say, ‘Here is a life-changing role for you — you’re going to work in a tropical paradise for the next five years of your life,’ it was, ‘Can you come out here and do the next three episodes?’ I needed the work and it seemed like a good part so I was happy to do it.”As it turned out, Emerson — who first appeared on the show in 2005 as Henry Gale (later to be revealed as Ben) — not only had his role extended on the show, he enough soon became the leader of The Others, the chief antagonist of the survivors of the crash of Oceanic Flight 815.”No one was more surprised than me when it turned out to be this great part,” Emerson said. “I’m glad that I got it the way I did. I had never had any luck in my acting life getting on a pilot or getting in the front door of a series, so I guess it was appropriate in a way for me, at least, to come in the back way to do a part that turned into a keeper. It relieved me of a lot of nerves because I was already in with the show before I even realized it.”But the potential of being one of the regular cast members was one thing. Guessing the arc of the character in store for him was something Emerson never could have imagined.”After doing a-half-dozen episodes in ‘Season 2’ out there in Hawaii, they kept saying, ‘Don’t go home — don’t go home quite yet.’ I began to think, ‘Wow, this is turning into something really good. I began to see the logic of how it was good for the show. They needed an adversary for the show. They need a face and a voice onto whom the audience can project their fears and anxieties,” Emerson said with a laugh. “By the time the season was over, I was thinking that would keep me around.”

Without question, one of the driving forces behind the success of “Lost” over the past six years has been its continually unfolding mysteries, which even extend into the deluxe boxed set (housed in a box topped by a miniature replica of the island, no less) where more secrets, including the highly anticipated 12-minute epilogue “The New Man in Charge” (featuring Emerson and fellow star Jorge Garcia), await.During the show’s run, perhaps the biggest nail-biter was the series finale of “The Complete Sixth Season” (also out on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday), where the ultimate fate of each major character was realized. Even though he participated in the filming of the finale, obviously, Emerson said he was no more in-the-know than anybody about what the final outcome would be.”For the finale, I didn’t have a complete script, so I didn’t really know how the series ended until it was broadcast,” Emerson said. “It contained a scene that I never got — a key scene where Jack (Matthew Fox) talks to his father (John Terry) and where they really were — it was crucial.”For the sake of not revealing the finale for those new to the “Lost” experience, the scene took on some spiritual overtones.”I thought that they really pulled it out of the fire. It was great,” Emerson enthused. “It was better than I expected and better than I could have hoped for.”Staying true to the form of the series, the finale invoked several different interpretations among fans and critics. That’s not such a bad thing, the 55-year-old actor said.”While I thought it was a great finale, that’s to say that it didn’t confuse me,” Emerson said. “I wasn’t sure what it all meant after I had watched it, but I knew in my heart that it had a satisfying conclusion. I thought it was poetic in how it speculated on what the machinery of (the character’s fates) is like in a lovely way.”While Emerson will reunite with several his “Lost” co-stars Sunday for the Emmys, he well-knows that, as a working actor, his days from seeing them will be few and far between. And while he and co-star (and fellow supporting actor nominee Terry O’Quinn) are shopping around ideas for shows, they’ll likely be staying on the mainland when the projects materialize — a locale far different from the island that held the fascination of television viewers for six seasons.”I haven’t really had a chance to miss Hawaii yet, even though I made good friends there and it’s a beautiful place with its sunsets, rainbows, the rainforests and the mountains,” Emerson said. “It’s all quite wonderful, but you don’t pay quite that much attention to those features when it’s the place you work and living outside of a suitcase, and where you’re missing your loved ones and real home.”

Source: WISN

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